Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

6
LEṆAS The Rise of Monasteries

A WANDERING body of monks whose sole bond of cohesion was ordainment in a common faith--of persons exempt from all social ties, recruited from different regions and unrooted to any local habitation--this was the primitive 'Bhikkhu-saṅgha of the Four Quarters'. It had been a real entity in the prime of Buddhism. But this body, developing and growing in number, did not retain this primitive character. The one body split up into many groups, each with its own group-life, locally delimited and functioning on its own--each of them known as a Saṅgha. At this stage the concept of the 'Saṅgha of the Four Quarters' became only an ideal, but it was, as we have seen, never given up theoretically.

Saṅgha life in the monk-settlements developed in a way that no longer permitted a dispersed mode of living. First, a system of training had been inaugurated among monks and a probationary period instituted between calling and full ordination during which a monk had to go through a period of training called Nissaya (Dependence on a Teacher), the period being normally ten years.1 Secondly, the custom had grown up among monks of holding symposia and debates among themselves called Abhidhamma-kathā, out of which evolved the monkish exegetic philosophy, the Abhidhamma. Thirdly, collective rites and ceremonies had come into existence like Uposatha, Pavāraṇā and Kaṭhina, regular maintenance of which called for a settled condition of life. These developments took place in the primitive āvāsas and ārāmas. The Upaṭṭhāna-sālā (meeting hall) was the symbol of the collective, congregational life. General dispersal after vassāvāsa was hardly favourable for its growth and the custom assumed by degrees a mere token character, no general dispersal actually following the termination of the period.

There arose also the need for ridding the cenobitical society of the violent disturbances and dislocations resulting from the flux of incoming and outgoing Bhikkhus, of which a pretty full picture can be gathered from the regulations in Cullavagga, VIII, bearing on

____________________
1
Mahāvagga, i, 32, 1. But see Mahāvagga i, 53, 4, where it is said that an able (paṭibala) Bhikkhu may remain in nissaya for five years only, but one not so all his life.

-92-

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